2011 Election: Let’s get the party started! Who has the largest online audience?

Ever since last Friday, when the Government of Canada fell and an election was called, people almost immediately began declaring that this will be “Canada’s first social media election.” Checking the chatter online in blogs and tweets, one can get a sense that people are under the impression that whichever party can garner the most “likes” or followers will run away with this election.  If only it was that simple.  Sheer numbers alone in social media is only but one part of the picture.  What is more important is creating a community of highly engaged and connected members who will go to bat for you in terms of both money and time. But it takes time and efforts to build a community as oppose to a mob.

As part of our analysis of how the election is playing out on social media, we are conducting a review of the major social media tools each party is using. We began at each party’s official website and accessed the online social media tools they each provided to their visitors. Below are some of our preliminary results.

How long has each party had their social media accounts?

For Twitter and Facebook, most of the parties have decided to feature their leaders’ accounts. This is understandable since for most people the party’s  leader is the public face of the party. However, for Youtube and Flikr, most of the parties use their party’s accounts. This decision to use different accounts on different social media sites is a bit perplexing and could potentially cause a lot of brand and message confusion.

Youtube was the first website adopted by all five parties in 2007, no doubt in preparation for the 2008 Federal Elections; same with Twitter. Except for Michael Ignatieff who joined Twitter in November 2008 when he announced his candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party, all of the other leaders started their accounts two months earlier, right around September 7, 2008, the time when  parliament was dissolved by the Governor General. Stephen Harper was the first to join Twitter, starting his account 5 days prior to this. However, in spite of Michael Ignatieff’s late start on Twitter, he was the first leader to have a  Facebook page back in September of 2006. None of the other leaders had Facebook pages until the summer of 2007, or the following year. Michael Ignatieff’s early adoption of Facebook might have to do with the fact that both he and the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerburg, have a close affiliation with Harvard, the place where Facebook got it start.

Overall, when you take other social media such as Youtube and Flikr into consideration, the Liberals are in the lead in this category because of their early adoption and usage of social networking sites, but only one point separates them from the Conservatives. The NDP and Bloc are tied in the 3rd place and the Green party was last to join the social media party.

Who has the largest online audience?

In this category we have a clear winner – the Conservatives. This isn’t surprising since the Conservatives have been the party in power and as a result has been able to attract more followers online than other parties. But these numbers are constantly in flux as more and more people are starting to pay more attention to the election. For example, a couple of days ago, when it was announced that the Green Party would be excluded from the televised election debates, the number of Elizabeth May’s followers on the Green party’s social media accounts has increased significantly.  Elizabeth May’s Facebook page has received 317 new “Likes”, and her Twitter account 1,213 new followers. It will be interesting to see if these numbers will translate into a more tangible outcome for the Green party.

Which party has the largest collection of uploads and updates?

The NDP is the winner in this category, although only beating the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois (who are tied for the second place) by one point. The NDP has been innovative in their usage of social networking tools, and not just for the platforms above. They are the first party to develop an iPhone app for their supporters, and offer virtual swag like: blog badges, Facebook profile pictures, Twitter backgrounds and even WordPress and Blogger skins(template) for bloggers to show their support. The Conservatives surprisingly come in last, with fewer tweets, Flickr and YouTube posts than all other parties. Perhaps with their position as the current party in power they are utilizing more traditional medium to communicate with Canadians. As the election steams ahead, we suspect that each party will up their game and upload more content more frequently in the weeks to come.

Party wrap up: Week one of the 2011 election

While doing this analysis however, it became clear that each party is using their social networking sites in very different ways. Social media sites and tools offer users online places to have conversations, and this is exactly what Elizabeth May from the Green Party and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Quebecois are using Facebook for.  Their walls are filled with posts and comments from other users, many of which the leaders reply to. Michael Ignatief, Steven Harper, and Jack Layton are using their walls for press release-type posts, and have very little, if any, comments and posts from other users.  We believe this is a squandering of a great opportunity to engage their supporters.

In sum, there are no clear winners among the parties based on their use of social media, at least not yet. The Liberals are leading in the early adopters category, the Conservatives took the first place with the number of online followers and the NDP is leading in the total amount of content they posted online. Finally, the leaders of the Green party and Bloc are recognized and commended for their more personalized and conversational use of social media sites to connect with their supporters.

Stay tuned for our next update about how the federal parties and candidates are using online social media to connect with voters and promote their platform and to learn who are their online supporters and what they are saying about their parties.

Note: Our rankings are based on the following information, collected between March 24-29, 2011:

* Anatoliy Gruzd and Kathleen Staves contributed to the analysis and writing of this post.